Considering a move to Olympia, WA. What should I know?

My wife and I are trying to relocate to the Pacific Northwest, and have been checking out areas and talking with people that are from that neck of the woods. We currently live in Conroe, about an hour north of the Houston mess. I know that the economic situation isn’t really as hot up there as it is here, but my profession is pretty in demand there. My cousin and I are both commercial fire alarm technicians and he relocated to Tacoma and got a huge pay increase, many more hours than he can work, and went from living in a trailer in a trailer park to buying land and building a house. Our resumes are very comparable, and his boss as already offered me the same gig. I would be more interested in a less urban area to live. Where I grew up, we were a town of 600 people and I am more interested in getting back to somewhat of a smaller town. Conroe has about 100,000 people in it.

What is it like up there? What areas would you recommend? We don’t have kids, but we have my wife’s mom living with us that we support.

It’s kinda late, but I’ll toss out this piece of advice to get things started: if you want/need to see your brother on a regular basis, do not move somewhere south of JBLM (Joint Base Lewis-McChord). It’s a notorious choke point on I-5* since the base has expanded significantly in the last decade or so and at the same time it makes highway expansion impossible. Source: bitter experience (I live in Tacoma and work in Olympia).

If you do choose the Olympia area, I’d suggest somewhere around Lacey.

*Bonus advice: calling it “5” or “The 5” will get you labeled as a Californian — something you don’t want to have happen.

I’ll second Lacey. I lived slightly south of Seattle (near the airport in the “nice area” of the slums :D) for 2 and a half years and my daughter lives in Lacey, which is a MUCH prettier and nicer area than Olympia.

I went to college at Evergreen, this far-left state school in Olympia, so I spent four years living there.

BE VERY SURE YOU CAN DEAL WITH THE RAIN. Before I moved, I was like, “rain? Great! I love it when it rains!” Oh, no no no no no. I didn’t quite understand what it’d be like to go literally months at a time without seeing blue sky, with temperatures constantly in the 30-40 range with a low spitting rain every second of the day. Everything turns gray. Once in spring there was finally a flash of sunlight, and it glinted off a cherry-red sports car, and I almost wept with the joy of seeing a vibrant color.

But the forests up there are phenomenal. You’ll feel like a hobbit.

I’ve lived in Olympia for about ten years now and I love it up here. Olympia isn’t a “small town” per se - I think the combined population in the Olympia-Tumwater-Lacey area is 100,000 or so - but it’s got a laid back small town feel to it. Olympia itself has more of the reputation of being a mellow laid-back hippie haven, while Tumwater and Lacey have a more typical suburban feel to them. The weather, as noted, tends to be pretty gloomy and cold from about September through May-June, but summer is usually nice and sunny and hot. Climate-wise, coming from Texas you’ll notice that the days are a lot longer in the summer - sunset is around 9:30 on June evenings, with dusk not setting in until 11 or so, and it starts to get light shortly after 5. Conversely, it’s usually dark by 5 in the winter and doesn’t really start to get bright out until after 7 in the morning, so if you have issues with SAD you may want to invest in some brighter lighting for your house.

As far as traffic goes, I’ll second the above comment - Olympia-Tacoma is my daily work commute, and traffic snarls up very easily between Lacey and JBLM. There just aren’t enough lanes to accommodate the traffic volume in that area, so congestion is frequent during rush hour, and if there’s any kind of accident in that stretch of road it can easily cause a 15-mile backup. Get used to the drive if you enjoy going to concerts or sporting events or things of that nature, since Tacoma is the closest that major touring acts ever make it - and the Gorge, the absolute best concert venue in the northwest, is a solid three hour drive away in the middle of nowhere in central Washington.

Crime isn’t too much of a problem around here. Downtown Olympia and part of the west side are sort of run-down, and there are a few “questionable” neighborhoods in Lacey and Hawks Prairie, but for the most part the biggest problems you’ll have are the occasional pushy panhandler. Most of the homeless population is located downtown and the area can be kind of uncomfortable to be in after dark, but unless you’re into the bar scene or seeing a play downtown Olympia pretty much closes down at 8 PM. During the day there’s plenty to do downtown, however - lots of great local restaurants, independent stores, historical markers and monuments, a public artesian well which has recently been converted into a small city park, public murals and art, an open-air farmer’s market, and so on. Downtown is the only part of the area with parking meters, but they’re cheap (50 cents an hour, I think) and parking is free evenings and weekends. In the summer there are a lot of interesting public events that happen downtown - Lakefair, Arts Walk, the Pet Parade, Hempfest (if you’re so inclined), and other quirky stuff.

As far as restaurants go, you’ll find most of the national chains here, but you’ll have to head to Seattle/Tacoma if you’re craving a bowl of Ivar’s chowder or a burger from Dick’s. The local restaurant scene is great, though - there are a lot of unique local restaurants, brewpubs, and food trucks downtown and scattered throughout the area and a lot of different options out there. (We even have a Salvadorean restaurant, a food truck that sells Iraqi cuisine, a couple conveyor belt sushi restaurants, and a walk-up window next to the gay bar that sells hot dogs and cheesy tots until 3 AM.)
I’d personally recommend Big Tom burgers (little drive-up shack with a full-size TARDIS in the parking lot and open-face chili burgers to die for), Dirty Dave’s Gay '90s (a family pizzeria/spaghetti place with unique décor and a name that makes you wonder what kind of families they had in mind), and Paco’s Tacos in Lacey (the owner is a transplanted Texan and the menu is a mix of traditional Mexican, Tex-Mex, and southern CA Mexican) and Beau Legs (Louisiana style fish & chips / soul food tucked away at the ass-end of Hawks Prairie).

Overall, it’s a pretty good place to live, the people here are friendly, you’re pretty centrally located for the occasional day trip to Seattle or Portland, and the natural beauty of the region is amazing. (I still can’t get over the sight of Mt. Rainier in the distance on clear days.)

Oh, yes! I live now in a place where I get a gorgeous vista of the Great Smoky Mountains on my drive home, and I love it. But the view of Mount Rainier as you come around a particular bend in the main road through town (I forget the road, it’s just before you reach the bridge into downtown) is breathtaking: it’s like you’re driving into a postcard. Absolutely stunning.

When I went to school in Olympia everyone looked the same. They even *ucked the same.

If I’m reading correctly, it sounds like the work will be in Tacoma. If so, try to live closer. There are a bunch of tiny little towns to the north and east (Fife, Algona, and Pacific come to mind, but there are others) where the commute in and out of Tacoma won’t directly involve base traffic.

Thank you thank you all for the help with this! This is really good information that I haven’t been able to really gleam out from my cousin. He has a lot of work but I really don’t get to talk to him much, its usually about five minutes of COME UP HERE MAN!!!

I was born in Texas and this is all I have ever known. I got to travel a bit to Northern and Southern California, and got to meet a lot of people that were actually nice and had interesting things to say. I feel like the people here in my own state are getting more and more desperate by the day, even though economically things are going very well. I am looking forward to the change. We hope to have things together well enough here to move up there by next March or April. We went here now, and would be looking for a place to rent when we get there.

Is it possible for you to take a week or even a month to live with your brother and see what things are like up here?

I moved here (just north of Seattle) from California and absolutely love it - overcast and drizzle are exactly what I wanted. We have some amazing summers, but there are some people who just can’t handle the winters. You’d do well to give yourself a month of exposure in Dec/Jan/Feb to see if it gets to you.

That would also give you a chance to drive some of the roads you’d be considering. Traffic is a nightmare everywhere in Western Washington and a 10-mile commute could easily be 30-40 minutes at rush hour if you’re fighting a bottleneck somewhere. You could take a look at the neighborhoods and find something that fits your taste - you can find everything from big-city condos to rural farmhouses within the area that you’re looking at.

This is all I could think of too

I really want to, but I am not really able to just take off right away. We are a one car family that shares it (although I have a truck from work that I drive for my job.) Also, its a 2700 mile drive or something like that, and plane tickets are sort of out of reach at this particular moment…

I am going to see what I can do to get up there to check it out. Houston traffic is pretty bad in some spots too, so traffic doesn’t really bother me that much. There are times I have to leave my house at 4:30 AM to get to my jobsite on the other end of Houston at 8:00, and its just about 50 miles. It can be dicey!


I liked this article, it will give you a general idea of the Seattle area :slight_smile:

People talk about the weather a lot, but the social culture has been a much bigger challenge for me. Northwest people are different in a million ways and they don’t really like to talk about how they’re different so you kind of have to pretend you don’t notice. Be prepared to spend a long time figuring out how they work and then getting it wrong anyway.

What is different do you think? And where were you from originally? My adopted sister (my wife and I adopted her) is a nurse with a BSN, working on her MSN, and is originally from New Jersey. She has had the hardest time keeping work here as a nurse, because she keeps getting let go because she refuses to write prescriptions without a medial license to do so, and other things that aren’t in the scope of a nurse. Apparently the problem is so bad there is a social group of nurses that are in the same situation as she is, and they have sort of started a very large assistance network to help people that aren’t from Texas get through the maze of problems that “foreign nurses” go through here in the Houston area. :dubious:

Anyways, to make a long story short, she is going to be moving with us to get out of this area. I would be interested in how this goes because she is going to have a complete different perspective than I would being a Texas Native. My wife is from California and she lived in Portland for a couple of years, so she is familiar with the area somewhat.

My wife said it is very important that we not appear to be from California, because I guess people from down there flooded the area at one time or another. :smiley:

This article was awesome, Hakuna Matata :smiley:

Unfortunately, almost none of it is true about Olympia, though. I don’t know any Olympians who raise chickens.

Its funny about the chickens. When I grew up, I raised three different types of chickens when I was in the FFA. I had one type that laid bluish and greenish eggs, what was pretty neat. I will tell you, though, that store bought eggs have much less yellowness in the yolk and are much less tasty.

To give you an example:

In Texas, if you go outside and start up the grill, your neighbor will peek over the fence and say “Hey, can I bring over some meat and beer?” Your other neighbors bring over some chips and salsa. By the time the evening is done, there’s a small block party. You’re not even sure who some of the guests are. (I’m not from Texas, but my wife is. She swears this is true.)

In Washington, you’ll say “Let’s have dinner sometime” and they’ll say “Sure.” You walk away from the conversation and realize something - nobody talked about when. So you go back and say “How about tonight? No… then tomorrow? Next week? OK, we’ll do it next month.” You think you’re set now, right? But they’ll call you a week later and ask “Are you still doing that dinner thing? I don’t want to impose.” You assure them it’s on. A month passes and they don’t show up. You call them and they say “Oh! I didn’t realize you were still doing that! I’m so sorry - we didn’t want to impose. We should definitely do something some other time.” (This is not exaggerated. Of the five houses around me, after eight years, the only neighbors who have ever been over for dinner are from California, and the were puzzled over the same experience.)

So… you’ll have to get used to politely nodding at people from your driveway. It’s that whole Scandinavian thing. People here are very nice, but they’re nice from a distance.

I’m from California, and I’m only as far north as Oregon but not one person has been bothered by it. Although they just call it “down south”. We’ve got a ton of hippies here, so Olympia might be a completely different social ball game, but here’s what has felt different and hard to manage for me:

I think people up here are very invested in being nice, and most of the people you meet will seem so, but no one is really that nice all the time, so the normal angst of daily life becomes very passive and there is great sensitivity to being called out about bad behavior, that’s considered rude. At work people will never just say oh hey, please don’t do that, it bothers me. Instead they’ll go to your boss, who will speak to the whole group about the problem as if everyone has been doing whatever the undesirable thing is, and they’ll just hope you get the message. I’ve also worked with a number of people who are terrible at their jobs, and everyone knows it, but they never get fired because “they’re really nice though, so…”

Here are some other examples

  • people here don’t line up for stuff, ever. If you go in to the coffee shop or you’re waiting for the bus everyone just mills around acting like they don’t care who goes when, but they definitely, very quietly do. So what happens is the barista says NEXT! and if you’re not from there you think hey! no one else is in line so that must be me! But no, they have memorized the queue and you are not next and now everyone in the shop thinks you’re an asshole. Or the bus door opens and it’s a rugby scrum at zombie speed and everyone understands the deal but you. Not a good feeling.

Also, people up here have very strong feelings about their right to be themselves, and that can be a drag sometimes. The other day I watched an old man with a cane bumping down the sidewalk and a young man riding his bike in the other direction, so the old man says hey, take it to the bike lane, I’m trying to walk here, and the young man was completely undone by how disrespectful it is to ask him to do anything other than what makes him happy.

So you have a lot of folks who absolutely believe they should be able to do whatever they want, and very little understanding of how that might be a problem for other people in their community while at the same time so completely unable to say or do anything unpleasant that pretty much everyone is secretly unhappy all the time.

Having said all of that though, I would still encourage you to consider the move. The Pacific Northwest is so beautiful you won’t even be able to stand it. Yes, it rains a lot but you do get used to it pretty quickly and once you get a good four jacket system going you won’t mind the weather at all. The summers are amazing, spring and fall are lovely, and there are a million outdoor activities just steps away from your front porch. People here really love it here, they live here on purpose and wouldn’t move away for anything. Come on up and see what you think!